We don’t have new members classes. For those who are exploring or returning to faith, we created Starting Point. We market Starting Point as a conversation rather than a class. We limit group size to twelve. We don’t mind asking people to wait. Whereas the content is very valuable, the relationships formed in that intimate setting are of equal or greater value. Similarly, we do not offer premarital counseling. Instead we have a program called 2 to 1 Premarital Mentoring. Engaged couples are assigned to married couples and typically meet together eight times to go through a series of lessons. The relational nature of these sessions makes it more mentoring than counseling. Once a couple is married, they can always call their 2 to 1 mentors if they have questions or unexpected challenges.
Perhaps our most aggressive (some would say unorthodox) initiative in this regard is the effort we make to transition unchurched and unbelieving people into groups and onto service teams. We want people who are considering faith or who have questions about faith to be surrounded by people of faith. The more Christians they come into contact with, the more likely it is that one of those individuals will be the one who makes that off-the-cuff comment that opens the door to a conversation that leads to a defining moment. Again, we can’t create a providential relationship. But we can certainly create some contact points.
Now, I’m sure there’s somebody out there in reader world who’s thinking, Hey, Andy, you don’t have the only church where cool stuff like that happens. We see the same type of thing in our church!
Of course you do. That’s my point. This is how God works. The question is: Are you working with God? Is the kind of thing I’ve described happening because of your ministry model or in spite of it? It’s going to happen. God uses providential relationships to grab people’s attention and blow up their faith. My responsibility, and yours, is to do whatever we can to facilitate and make room for those relationships to develop. The writer of Hebrews nailed it when he (or she?) wrote:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24–25)
I love the first phrase: “And let us consider how.” In other words, let’s give this some thought. Let’s not just assume it’s going to happen. Let’s facilitate it. Let’s get in each other’s lives and “spur” one another on. So, here’s a little spurring. Does your ministry model connect people quickly and keep them connected? Does your model have easy, obvious steps into community? Is it easy for nonbelievers to find their places? Are you classing people to death? What can you do programmatically to create more relational connection opportunities in your ministry model?
Stanley, A. (2012). Deep and wide: creating churches unchurched people love to attend. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.